Healthy You - Every Day

Lightning Safety 101

Know what to do when thunder roars


While spectacular to see, lightning can be destructive and deadly.

As the area’s most trusted health partner, Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) is happy to share information on how to stay safe around lightning and how to help someone who might be struck. We checked with the National Weather Service (NWS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for guidance.

What is lightning?

Essentially, it’s a giant spark in the atmosphere that happens when the difference between positive and negative charges within a storm becomes too great. The air, which had acted as an insulator, breaks down, and voilà – there’s a rapid discharge of electricity that we know as lightning.

Did you know?

A typical lightning bolt carries about 300 million volts and 30,000 amps, compared to your household current which is 120 volts and 15 amps.

To say lightning is hot is an understatement. The electrical charge can heat the air around it to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, five times hotter than the surface of the sun. It vaporizes any water in its path, which is why we sometimes see trees seemingly explode when they are hit.

When the air around the lightning bolt suddenly cools, it creates a sound wave – thunder.

How frequent is lightning?

It’s a mostly warm weather phenomenon, but lightning hits the U.S. about 25 million times each year. That’s a ton of atmospheric fireworks, and Pennsylvania gets its fair share. From 2015 to 2019, the state averaged about 1.7 million lightning strikes a year.

Your odds of getting struck by lightning in any given year are about 1 in 500,000. Don’t play the odds, though. About 20 people are killed by lightning each year in the U.S. In 2023, that total was 14. In 2021, one of those fatalities was a golfer who was struck and killed in July 2021 at a course in Taylor, Lackawanna County, near Scranton.

Staying safe

As soon as you hear thunder, stop what you are doing and get inside a substantial building or a hard-topped metal vehicle (don’t lean on the doors). If you can hear thunder, lightning is probably close enough to potentially harm you. It can strike as far as 10 miles from any rain.

If taking shelter in a building or car just isn’t an option, the NWS advises avoiding open areas and being the tallest object in the area. Lightning tends to strike the tallest objects. While it’s not attracted to metal, it easily travels through metal objects such as wires and pipes. Stay away from isolated tall trees, utility poles or towers.

Don’t crouch or lie down, but keep moving toward a safe place.

If you’re in a group, spread out. The NWS says that while that could increase the chances that someone will be struck, it also can help prevent multiple casualties and increase the chance someone in the group is there to offer first aid.

Helping a lightning strike victim

A person struck by lightning does not carry an electrical charge, so it’s safe to begin helping them immediately. It’s best to move them to a safe spot, if possible. Contrary to popular belief, lightning can strike in the same spot twice.

Call 911 immediately and begin CPR in cases of cardiac arrest. Use an automated external defibrillator if one is available. The survival rate for cardiac arrest outside of a hospital is only 10 percent, so quick action with the right aid is key. In addition to causing cardiac arrest, lightning also can leave nervous system damage, though severe burns are uncommon.

Lehigh Valley Health Network hospitals are prepared to help all types of trauma patients, including a lightning strike victim. We’re here for you with world-class care.

We invite you to share lightning safety information with friends and family. It could be a lifesaver.


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